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August 23, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sister Elise García, OP, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), opened the organization’s August 11-13, 2021, annual assembly – held virtually this year – with a presidential address that outlined the history of racism in the United States and noted the complicity in racism of the Catholic Church, as well as among women religious.
“We, as Americans, have cheated ourselves of the full truth of our history, ignoring or eliding the painful stories that inextricably interweave and form the full fabric of our lives as African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Euro Americans, and Latinx Americans,” Sister Elise said in her Presidential Address, Creating Space for the Future: Cutting Deeper Grooves of Transforming Love into Evolution.
The issues of systemic racism and white privilege became especially clear in May 2020 with the murder of George Floyd and the killing of other African Americans by white police officers.
Sister Elise challenged the women religious to do the work of identifying racism and white supremacy, “acting to dismantle them in our personal lives, institutes, Conference, and ministries.” She encouraged all Christians to follow Jesus and to take on the way of the cross, a “giving over of oneself to the radical love and solidarity that Jesus lived, extending ourselves as kin to all who are marginalized, excluded, disinherited.”
Finally, Sister Else spoke of the inspiration of African American slaves, whose mysticism and faith were described by Dr. Shawn Copeland in her book, Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Spiritual Experience. “Dr. Copeland has gleaned insights into what she calls the ‘dark and hidden wisdom’ of the enslaved by drawing on their narratives, their stories, and their spirituals.”
Sister Elise’s address was followed by a ritual asking forgiveness for the way in which women religious participated in racism and white privilege. Sister Elise was joined by Sisters Jane Herb, IHM, President-elect; Jayne Helmlinger, CSJ, Past President; and Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director.
During the prayer, each woman formally delivered an apology. “Before God and all who have been grievously harmed through the generations by our complicity as women religious in the enslavement of children, women and men, I – on behalf of our Conference and members – acknowledge these sinful acts by our congregations, offer a profound apology, and pray for forgiveness.”
Read Dan Stockman’s article about the opening of the LCWR Assembly in the National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report.
Feature photo: Sisters Elise García, OP, left, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and Jane Herb, IHM, President-elect, take part in a ritual marking the sorrow of women religious for their complicity in racism.
March 2, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – At the mid-point of February, Black History Month, Sister Jamie Phelps, OP, gave a presentation on African American spirituality – rooted in the spirituality of Africans – and of the need for all spiritualities and all people to be accepted and valued as gifts of God.
Sister Jamie’s talk was part of a series of monthly presentations on spirituality, coordinated by the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Spirituality Committee. Her talk was a live stream presentation on February 16, 2021.
An Adrian Dominican Sister since 1959, Sister Jamie is a theologian, currently residing at the Dominican Life Center in Adrian. She served for eight years as the Director of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies and was the Katherine Drexel Professor of Systematic Theology at Xavier University in New Orleans. Before that, she taught theology in Chicago at the Catholic Theological Union (CTU) from 1986 to 1998 and Loyola University, 1998 to 2003. Sister Jamie has also served as a visiting professor of theology at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, from January to May, 2003, and twice at the University of Notre Dame: in 2005-2006 and 2012-2013.
“My assumption is that we’re all human beings, but depending on where we were raised, where we were born, what city, what environment we were raised in, we experience God in different ways,” Sister Jamie began. “Spirituality is a reflection on how we relate to God.”
Sister Jamie spent much of her presentation describing the African world view, the root of the world view of African Americans. For Africans, identity is rooted in the community – not the individual. Their concept of time is “that of the eternal now,” in which life, death, and immorality are circular and interconnected, she said. In this worldview, she said, “everything that is, is connected – connected to each other and to the source of their being, God.”
When African slaves encountered Christianity, they “incorporated aspects that eased their burden of captivity,” Sister Jamie explained. She gave the example of slaves in Latin America and in the Caribbean, who found that elements of Catholic tradition resonated with their tradition of intercessions and recognition of God’s presence. “Catholicism denied this mixing as a false syncretism,” she said. “But now the Church recognizes enculturation – discovering in your culture, in your way of being, the God who is present, and expressing this using the symbols and traditions that are part of your cultural history.”
Watch a recording of Sister Jamie’s presentation below.